Past champions and players revisit the legacy of Bill McKinney

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; If you listen closely around Duncan Park Golf Course this weekend you can hear him&8212; whispers from the late Bill McKinney, the man for whom the Natchez men&8217;s city golf championship is named.

McKinney served as the head golf professional at Duncan Park for a period spanning at least three decades. No one seems to know exactly how many years he served, since McKinney passed in the early 70&8217;s, and precedes the memory of all who knew him. And although most of the younger participants in Saturday&8217;s opening round of the Bill McKinney Memorial City Championship have no clue who McKinney was, it does not stand to dull his legacy or memory among those who remember.

&8220;I come to play in the city championships every year in memory of Bill McKinney,&8221; Charlie Fife said. &8220;He&8217;s the reason a lot of us ever started playing the game of golf.&8221;

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Fife knows of the whispers well, he hears them all the time and has played in the city championship for 56 years, longer than any man alive.

Fife can

recall tales of Bill McKinney as freshly as if they happened yesterday.

&8220;Readers Digest used to run a series of most memorable people and I&8217;m surprised he never made it,&8221; Fife said. &8220;He was truly one of the most engaging and wonderful persons I&8217;ve ever met in my life.&8221;

Fife is not the only one who is quick to pay homage to McKinney.

Pete Powell has won the men&8217;s city championship 11 times, over the course of four decades, a feat that will not soon or possibly ever be repeated, and he hears the McKinney&8217;s whispers too.

After Powell won his third city title he retired the trophy and named it and the tournament after McKinney.

&8220;It was just the right thing to do,&8221; Powell said. &8220;To so many people he was golf.&8221;

After Saturday&8217;s opening round Powell and others reminisced over Mckinney sharing stories, which give glimpses into what made McKinney so special.

&8220;He gave me my first set of clubs,&8221; said Tom Mathews, former Duncan Park head pro and current Natchez High School golf coach. &8220;He was the nicest man I ever met. He really enjoyed seeing people enjoy the game of golf.&8221;

Mathews&8217; story isn&8217;t unlike many others. Many people around Natchez can recount tales of how McKinney gave them a set of clubs or touched their life in some way.

John Guice retells a story of from when Guice was 15-years&045;old and McKinney paid for his fees into a golf tournament.

&8220;I didn&8217;t have any money to play, but Bill McKinney called the country club and had an account set up so that all of my fees would be billed back to him,&8221; Guice said. &8220;A few days before the tournament started he came up and gave me a few dozen balls to play with.&8221;

At the end of play today another city champion will be crowned, as winner of the 2006 Bill McKinney Memorial City Golf Championship.

After the first round of play, K.G Watkins tops the leader board with a score of 67, but several others are well within striking distance.